Iranian lawmakers grilled President Hassan Rouhani over his economic performance in a special session of parliament August 28.
Rising unemployment, the spiraling devaluation of the national currency, a surge in smuggling and other economic crimes, renewed sanctions against Iran’s banks, and the country’s general economic decline were all on the agenda at Tuesday’s session.
Iranian media reports lawmakers seemed generally unimpressed with Rouhani’s answers to their questions about his administration’s economic policy.
The dissatisfaction with Rouhani’s economic performance is so deep, some of parliament’s questions could be referred to the judiciary for investigation. It is uncertain yet if MPs will pursue such and investigation, but if they do it would mark the first time an Iranian president has had to answer to judges about his economic policy.
The embattled president has been under pressure for the last eight months to dismiss his economic team amid the country’s worsening economic crisis.
Under a barrage of criticism at the session, in his speech Rouhani focused on overcoming the sanctions reimposed by the U.S. after its withdrawal from the nuclear deal, promising to defeat the “anti-Iranian officials in the White House.”
Rouhani also took aim at his hardline critics, insinuating they are out of touch with the desires of average Iranians, saying, “The economic problems are critical, but more important than that is that many people have lost their faith in the future of the Islamic Republic and are in doubt about its power.”
The president defended his administration's efforts to combat smuggling and fighting sanctions and unemployment, and called on parliament to ratify the the bills before it that would facilitate Iran's joining the international campaign against money laundering and financing terrorism, which he says would improve the position of Iranian banks on the international stage.
Speaking on the dramatic devaluation of Iranian currency, the rial, and the rising rate of exchange of foreign currency, Rouhani said "social, psychological, and foreign relations issues affect the rate of exchange more than economic reasons."
Rouhani also blamed the massive protest demonstrations in over 100 Iranian cities in December 2017 and January 2018 for exacerbating Iran's economic problems.
Hardline MP Mojtaba Zolnour accused the administration of “narcissism" and not having a plan to tackle economic problems. He also charged Rouhani with being unprepared to deal with the aftermath of the U.S. pull-out from the nuclear deal.
The sharp criticism of the president has no doubt disappointed Rouhani’s supporters, among them some moderate clerics who would like to see him succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as Supreme Leader when the 79-year-old hardliner dies.